Bigger Barns, Rich Fools and Refugees

Luke 12:13-21

And he said to them, “Take care! Be on your guard against all kinds of greed; for one’s life does not consist in the abundance of possessions.” (Read the whole passage)

We have been hitting a highlight reel of the gospel of Luke lately. We have heard very well known and familiar stories like the story of the Geresene Demoniac and Jesus exorcizing the demon called legion. We have heard the parable of the Good Samaritan. We stopped in for dinner at Mary and Martha’s. We learned the Lord’s Prayer along with the disciples who wanted to know how to pray.

But today, we step off the highlight reel to touch on a much more taboo topic. No, not sex. Not even politics, despite all the news about Donald Trump and Hillary Clinton.

Today, Luke has laid upon us the issue of money and how we value it. The way we understand money and wealth in the Church has a varied history. Some have said that wealth is a sign of God’s blessing. Others would say wealth that is not used to help the poor is one of the greatest sins imaginable. Either way, money and its place in our lives and world elicits strong feelings for all of us. We know that money holds power over us, and we also know that putting money in its place is something we struggle with.

Jesus is standing in a crowd teaching his disciples when two brothers come forward and ask Jesus the teacher to settle a dispute over inheritance. Inheritance was a complicated issue in the ancient world, like it is now. The eldest son of the family received a double portion of the wealth, compared to other sons. And the assets, the land, the buildings, the servants would belong more the clan or tribe than the particular  landowner.

But what passes us by quickly, is that most people wouldn’t be landowners in Jesus’ day. Most people were day labourers, or might have been lucky enough to have the skill to make something to sell. Landowners were wealthy, and often they were the economic drivers of a community. Their land produced food, jobs, provided places to live. They were responsible for their communities.

So when these two brothers are seeking to divide their inheritance, it is possible that they will be dividing a whole community. The estate that they look after together might not be able to adequately provide for their community once divided. But the two brothers, aren’t thinking about that. They are probably thinking about controlling their wealth themselves.

And so Jesus will have none of it. He refuses to arbitrate their dispute as a respected teacher.

Instead, he offers a scathing parable about greed.

Often in Biblical parables, the rich are portrayed as having acquired their wealth in unethical, even illegal ways. But the farmer in today’s parable has done nothing wrong. He does not steal, or cheat, or break the law. He simply is the owner of land that produces abundantly.

In fact, the farmer’s wealth is not at issue in the parable. It is what the farmer says that seems to be the problem. Listen to his words: “I do, I have, my crops, I will do, I will pull down, my barns, my grain, my goods, I will say, my soul, Soul you have ample”. In the short 3 sentences that this farmer speaks, he makes reference to himself 10 times. It is easy to see that this farmer is rather self-centered, and that he sees the land and grain as belonging to him.

Yet, the land would truly belong to his family. His wealth would then belong to his community and all of his relatives that would be working the fields along with him. But our farmer only considers storing his grain — his wealth. He does not consider other options like providing for the poor, giving his workers a bonus or sharing with relatives whose land did produce as well.

The farmer in this parable is a caricature. He is the extreme version of our human instinct to create security for ourselves.

We know very well the thought process that is being outlined in this parable. In times where there is even a small amount of extra, saving it for when there is not enough is important. Today’s farmers could use some harvests with extra, some years when next year’s crop wasn’t already being used to pay this year’s.

It isn’t the actions of the farmer in this parable that are brought into question. Rather, as God demands the life of this wealthy farmer today, the issue is about the proper place of money in the world. It isn’t just that those big grain barns won’t do this farmer any good once he is dead. But more importantly, that storing all this grain, all this wealth hasn’t done anyone any good.

Who is remembered at a funeral for the size of their grain bins? Or house? Or wardrobe? Or bank account? Or car collection?

Jesus is making a point not just about the next life, but about this one. This absurd farmer and all his wealth has missed an opportunity to build something far more valuable than money and wealth. The farmer has missed what it means to build relationships with people.

People are more valuable than any amount money. Full grain bins mean nothing when there are people starving next door. And yet our world routinely chooses wealth ahead of people. Our world is full of overflowing grain bins and starving people.

This week, our church and our community was blessed with a powerful reminder of how easily people can be forgotten in our world, and how the economic systems, and political systems around us often put money and the things money represents – power, influence, security, – ahead of people.

On Wednesday night, the Red River Churches Refugee Team welcomed 7 people to our community. 7 people whose earthy possessions and wealth could fit into one small suitcase, not each, but for all 7. Even my daughter who not even a month old, has more stuff than can fit in one suitcase.

And yet, these 7 sudanese refugees represent more than a reminder of how people are easily forgotten for the sake of money and wealth. They also show us what it looks like when we do put people first. They remind us that bigger bins for our grain, for our stuff is not what we need or the world needs. They remind us instead of how God sees us.

When Jesus scolds these two brothers for wanting to divide their inheritance, it is because when he looks arounds his world is full of people just like our new refugee family. People whom have been left behind by the world in our struggle to have more money and wealth. People who are forgotten by those with riches. People who could benefit from some of that extra and abundant grain.

But it isn’t just that Jesus reminds these brothers and us that those with more than enough can afford to share with those with not enough. But Jesus reminds us that ultimately, on the night when our life is demanded of us, that we too are refugees with nothing. All the wealth and money and power and security in the world means nothing in the face of death.

And how lucky are we, when we forget the proper place of money and the value of people, that God does not. That God places people above money, wealth, power and security. That God is willing to give up all those things for our sake. How lucky are we that God is into refugee sponsorship in a big way? That God welcomes and provides for us, for us with nothing to offer, with nothing of true value to our names. God gives us the most valuable name of all – beloved child.

And if we were to retell the parable that Jesus tells today, but with God as the main character instead of an absurdly rich landowner, it would sound very different:

Then [Jesus] told them a parable: “The land of God produced abundantly. And God thought to Godself, `What should I do, for I have no place to store my crops?’ Then God said, `I will do this: I will pull down my barns and instead of building larger ones, I will give my grain and my goods to those who are hungry, to those who are in need. And [then] I will say to my soul, `Soul, you have ample goods to feed all who are hungry and all who are thirsty; relax, eat, drink, be merry.’ But then sinful humanity said to God, `You fool! This very night you will be betrayed’ And God said, “Then take my life, take my body broken for you. Take my blood shed for you.”

And then Jesus explaining this new parable said, “So it is with those who store up treasures for themselves but are not rich toward God, for God does not store up treasures for Godself, but has been poured out for you, and is rich towards all.

Amen.

Advertisements

Why ‘Thoughts and Prayers’ Don’t seem to Work

Luke 11:1-13

Jesus was praying in a certain place, and after he had finished, one of his disciples said to him, “Lord, teach us to pray, as John taught his disciples.”(read the whole passage)

Sermon

For every prayer that is offered around the world today, there must be an equal amount of opinions and ideas, rules of thumb and conventions, that tell us how prayer works. Ask, seek, knock. Ask and keep asking. Seek and keep seeking. Knock and keep knocking. Pray boldly and you will receive. You need more faith to pray. You need to pray more. You need to pray for God’s will. You didn’t pray enough and you were punished with illness, suffering or death. Prayer brings us closer to God. Prayer doesn’t do anything. Prayer is for us, so that we know our needs. God hears the prayers of holy people more, especially pastors. God hears all prayers. God only gives us what we need. God will give you what you ask for. There are three answers to pray, yes, no and maybe later. Prayer is like meditation. God speaks to us in prayer. You have to pray from the heart, you need to pray with words that have been prayed by the faithful for centuries.

Lost and confused yet?

Prayer is a key aspect of Christian life. We pray together each Sunday, we pray alone.  We pray for many things here: for rain and sunshine. For Justice and peace. For those who are ill, who are grieving and in distress.

And still prayer can be a very frustrating aspect of Christian life. We want to know the hows, and the whens and the whys. Prayer carries with such expectation that it has the power to make things happen, and yet… we have prayed for and with those for whom prayers have not been answered. We have all had prayers that are not answered. And it begs us to wonder what use is prayer, and perhaps more painfully, why God does not hear us.

The disciples ask Jesus how to pray. And he gives them a mouthful.

Father, hallowed be your name.

Your kingdom come.

Give us each day our daily bread.

And forgive us our sins,

for we ourselves forgive everyone indebted to us.

And do not bring us to the time of trial.”

It sounds familiar, but not quite. Of course it’s the Lord’s prayer, but not quite the one we remember. There is no earthly will of God mentioned in Luke’s version, but it is an earthy prayer that gives us a foundation. The Lord’s Prayer has grounded Christians for 2000 years. Daily bread, forgiveness of sins and salvation from trial and temptation.

This prayer is so engrained in us that we pray it without needing to think… like breathing. It becomes part of the most basic aspects of our living. Its a prayer that goes with us through life from beginning to end. A prayer prayed at baptisms and prayed at funerals.

Yet, the disciples surely were not hoping for a prayer like this. They maybe wanted one of the cool ones like Jesus would pray. When Jesus would look to heaven and bread and fish would multiply, or dead children would be raised, or demons would scatter, or the sick, blind and lame would be healed, or when a man who had been a corpse for four days would rise up from a sealed tomb. The disciples, 70 of them, had been just sent out and had been healing and casting out demons in Jesus name. Yet, like us, they probably wanted to control such power, not for it just to happen without really knowing why. They want to know the trick, the formula to prayer.

We want prayer to be the same as rubbing a magic lantern. We hope that prayer can gives us wealth and happiness. We hope that it will save us from harm and heal everyone who is sick. Or at the very least, we all wish that prayer and its effects would be something we can measure simply and easily. But it isn’t… Jesus doesn’t do simple and easy.

With yet more shootings in Baton Rouge, Miami and Munich this week, we have heard politicians and other leaders stand up and offer ‘Thoughts and Prayers’ for victims and families. It is starting to feel like an empty phrase. Every time there is yet another horrendous act of violence, thoughts and prayers abound, but nothing seems to change. It makes us wonder, if all this praying is doing anything at all. It makes us wonder if there is a point to praying at all.

When the disciples ask Jesus how to pray, it may seem like they are looking for some angle on power, on the ability to get stuff from God. They might be looking for what so many TV prosperity gospel preachers are offering.

But they might also be more like us and how we feel about prayer. They might be asking Jesus how to pray, because for them, prayer feels empty and powerless.

And so Jesus offers them a place to start, a beginning. Jesus give the disciples instructions on how to achieve great things in prayer, but how to start and begin.

Daily Bread, Forgiveness, Salvation from Trial.

God’s Kingdom come.

Jesus shows them that prayer doesn’t achieve the results but begins the process.

Praying for Daily Bread doesn’t feed all who are hungry.

Praying for Forgiveness doesn’t reconcile all peoples.

Praying for salvation from times of trial, doesn’t alleviate all suffering and pain.

Praying begins those things. Prayer is the starting place.

To put it another away, what would it look like if we didn’t pray the church, the world and those in need.

How many refugees would find new homes if we didn’t pray for displaced persons week after week? None. Yet ELCIC congregations, including ours, have helped to sponsor over 250 refugees just in the past year.

How many congregations would run food banks, serve at soup kitchens or offer meal programs if we didn’t pray for the hungry week after week? None! Yet, churches and people of faith have been the primary feet on the ground for feeding the hungry for years, decades, centuries!

Would we will be able to offer forgiveness if we didn’t pray that God would help us forgive? No we wouldn’t. Yet, as we ask for forgiveness, God shows us how to give forgiveness.

Where would we turn in times of trial, if we didn’t pray that God would save us week after week? We don’t know. Yet, as we pray that God would deliver us, God reminds us that we do not face the trials of our world on our own, but together as the Body of Christ.

Prayer is the beginning. In Prayer God reveals to us all the places where God’s Kingdom comes into world. In prayer, when we pray for daily bread, for forgiveness, for salvation from time of trial, we see that God’s Kingdom is breaking into the world with food for the hungry, with mercy and forgiveness for sinners like us, with salvation for those suffering under the shadow of death.

But even more than that, God gives a way to speak about the needs of the world in prayer. God gives us words in prayer to speak about the hungry, the poor, the suffering, the dying without it sound like a depressing new report. Instead, prayer allows us to see where God is already at work meeting the needs of the world, and God gives us words to express this reality in prayer.

Prayer is a starting place, when we so often treat it like the end point. Prayer helps us to see where God is at work in the world, where God’s Kingdom is coming.  Prayer helps give us the language to talk about the needs of the world without being overwhelmed and depressed like we are watching the news.

And so when we wonder with the disciples about whether prayer has any meaning or purpose, Jesus shows us that prayer is the starting place. The starting place to see God in our world. When another politician or leader or Facebook post offers “Thoughts and prayers” for something and we wonder if that does anything to help… Jesus shows us how to begin in prayer, how to begin with daily bread, with forignvess and salvation from trial.

Jesus shows us that in prayer God’s Kingdom begins to come.

Amen.

The Gospel of Avoiding Triangulation

Luke 10:38-42

But Martha was distracted by her many tasks; so she came to him and asked, “Lord, do you not care that my sister has left me to do all the work by myself? Tell her then to help me.” (Read the whole passage)

As we continue through the summer, we are rolling through the scenes from Jesus’ ministry. Healings, exorcisms, forgiveness, parables and more. Last week Jesus challenged the young lawyer’s views on what it means to be saved and who our neighbours are, by telling the story of the Good Samaritan. The Good Samaritan whom we found out is not someone we are supposed to be, but who God is. The one who comes to find us and rescue us from the ditch.

Today, we take a break from ministry and work. Instead, Jesus goes to dinner. Dinner with his friends, Mary and Martha. These two sisters have have become icons and symbols of hardwork, effort and busyness on the one hand and reflection, attentiveness and faithfulness on the other.

Jesus is waiting for the meal to prepared, something we have all done in the living room of someone else’s house. Presumably Martha is not just cooking for Jesus, but for his disciples, and maybe even Lazarus, Mary and Martha’s brother too. This is probably a big job to get the meal ready. And Mary is sitting at Jesus’ feet, listening to what he has to say. Martha is annoyed that her sister is not helping cook the meal (we will just leave the fact that she isn’t mad at her brother aside). So Martha comes to Jesus and tells him to set her sister straight and send her into the kitchen. And then we get this famous line from Jesus: “Martha, Martha, you are worried and distracted by many things; there is need of only one thing. Mary has chosen the better part, which will not be taken away from her.”

Mary and Martha can become two of the ways we categorize and label each other in the church. This week, church members from congregations across the interlake gathered together in Arborg to talk about ways that we can work together in the midst of declining membership and resources. The leader of the meeting began with a short bible study on Mary and Martha. We were asked to self identify as either one or the other. Martha was understood to the be do-ers of the congregation. The ones ushering, folding bulletins, pounding in loose nails, planting flowers, making coffee, keeping things neat, tidy and clean.

But Mary… well, Mary was a little harder to define. But we assumed Mary was understood to the be the ones interested in faith, in learning, thinking, praying. The ones at bible study, looking for books on spirituality, asking questions about faith.

Once all the hands had been raised, there were a lot more self-identified Marthas than Marys.

I wonder why that is in the church?

 

There is something universal about these two women aren’t there? It is easy to see ourselves in either or even both. Yet, the way this story is told, there are two opposing approaches to hospitality, to faith, to being in community.

But two things about the story of Mary and Martha has always bothered me. 

The first is that Martha seems to get an unnecessarily bum rap from Jesus. Sure she is frantic and whining when she could take it a bit easier. But Jesus seems to have no sympathy.

The second is that despite Jesus’ emphasis on the value of Mary’s choice to slow down and listen, we tend to value Martha’s work ethic above Mary’s desire to learn and grow.

And I will confess, for a long time, I didn’t know what to do with this story… particularly, Jesus’ apparent scolding of Martha.

But then just a few weeks ago, I read something that put this story in a new light.

Jesus’ issue with Martha is not her work ethic or busyness. While he does say that Mary’s desire to learn and grow in faith is good and important and something to value. Jesus is setting a boundary with Martha. A boundary about being drawn into her conflict with her sister. When Jesus’s pushes back against Martha’s request, is not because he is judging her choice of activity. Jesus is refusing to be drawn into a conflict between two others. If Martha has a problem with her sister Mary, she should take it to Mary directly. Jesus is refusing to be triangulated. 

Usually, the good news sounds like Jesus healing, forgiving, exorcizing demons, raising to life, rescuing us from the ditch of sin and death. Yet, while it may sound odd, Jesus setting a boundary is good news too. Jesus refusing to be triangulated is good news too.

When Jesus sets a boundary refusing to be drawn into our drama, it means that God is free from the burdens our of conflict, the burdens of our sins, the burdens of our suffering. God is free to let go and forgive. God can act to take hold of us and care for us. God can respond in a way that we need, rather than the one we want.

When Jesus refuses to be triangulated, it means that God will not be distant from us, that God makes no obstacles for our salvation, that God does not operate through intermediaries. Rather God deals directly with us. God does not talk about our salvation with someone else, but deals directly with us.

When Jesus refuses to get involved with Martha and Mary’s issue today, Jesus is showing us something much more important about how God deals with us. And that is directly.

God speaks to us directly through God’s word.

God washes us directly in the waters of baptism.

God feeds us directly in the bread and wine of the Lord’s supper.

God saves us directly, not through works or laws or prayers or righteousness.

When God saves us, God just saves us. 

Today, we might wonder if we are Marys or Marthas, we might feel like both.

But there is no question about how Jesus deals with us. Directly.

Amen

The Good Samaritan vs. #AllLivesMatter

Luke 10:25-37

He answered, “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your strength, and with all your mind; and your neighbor as yourself.” And he said to him, “You have given the right answer; do this, and you will live.”

But wanting to justify himself, he asked Jesus, “And who is my neighbour?” (Read the whole passage)

Sermon

To begin with a moment of honest confession: with baby number 2 two arriving on Wednesday, I had planned to lessen my preparation load this past week by preaching a sermon that I wrote 6 years ago on this passage of the Good Samaritan. It was a good sermon that challenged the ways in which we look at just what the story of the Good Samaritan is about.

It was a good plan and a good sermon.

But then guns, and racism, and violence and death broke out.

Then Cyril Weenusk, a visitor to Winnipeg coming to bring his father to the hospital, was beaten to death in downtown Winnipeg for no apparent reason.

Then Alton Sterling, an unarmed black man was pinned to the ground under two police officers and then shot and killed in Louisiana.

Then another black man, Philando Castile, was shot and killed by a cop in front of his girlfriend and her 4 year old daughter, during a routine traffic stop.

And then 5 police officers were shot and killed in Dallas during a protest of the violence, by a troubled man upset by the state of race relations in the United States.

And then all of a sudden, it was impossible to hear this parable of the Good Samaritan, a parable about violence, about race relations, about the debate between #SamaritanLivesMatter and #AllLivesMatter, about what it means to truly be a good neighbour, and not to think about the events of this week.

In fact, the parable of the Good Samaritan has already been told to us in many different ways this week, and the questions it raised in Jesus’ day, continue to be raised in our world.

A young man, a religious lawyer or expert in religious law is having a conversation with Jesus about what it means to be saved, and when Jesus tells him to love his neighbour as himself, the man wants to confuse and blur the lines of the issue, “Who is my neighbour?” he asks.

Jesus responds with a parable about a man taking the dangerous journey from Jericho to Jerusalem – a rocky, downhill road that requires a traveller to leave the safety of Jewish territory. It is an ideal place for bandits, and along the way, the man is beaten, robbed and left half-dead.

And then a temple priest passes by the man. The priest is not heartless, but rather makes a considered ethical choice. He chooses the good of the many over the good of one. If he defiles himself to save this one half-dead man, he will be unclean for 7 days an unable to help scores of people obtain forgives in the temple.

And then a Levite passed by the man. He too is not heartless, but rather makes the same considered ethical choice, as he too is a servant of the greater good.

But then a Samaritan comes along. The Samaritan is a heretical jew, because he worships God in the wrong place. And he would not be concerned with ritual purity, because Samaritans were considered unclean anyways. Yet, despite the bad blood between Samaritans and Jews, the Samaritan stops to help. He goes the extra mile and makes sure the half-dead man is taken care of by an innkeeper.

The story is meant to challenge ideas around who is our neighbour, but also the systems that lay at the foundation of our society. This parable isn’t about telling us to be Good Samaritans, and telling us not to be priests and levites. The parable questions the assumptions and ethics that are buried deep within our society.

As police officers encountered Alton Sterling and Philando Castile, it wasn’t a heartless merciless instinct that led them to shoot these two men. Rather it was something worse. It was an ethical framework that told them it was not even worth ten seconds of second thought before shooting. It is the ingrained belief that allowing for even the question to hang in the air about whether a black man may or may not be dangerous is simply not worth it. The police officers made the same decision that the priest and levite made. It is better for the half-person before them to die, than to risk their ability to serve.

As a gunman in Dallas decided that he wanted white people and police officers to die, he was suffering from the same ethical framework embedded in our world. He was suffering under the idea that somehow some lives were more valuable than his, that it was okay for him to try and inflict as much damage as possible to even some kind of score. That his half-personhood was worth a certain and violent end in order to get as many full persons a possible.

The tragic reality of the parable of the Good Samaritan is that it is not the moral lesson we usually think it to be. Instead, it is a mirror that we can hold up to see the broken state of the world. There are bandits who would rob and beat a traveller on the road to Jericho, there are bandits who would kill a traveler on his way with his father to a hospital in Winnipeg. There are important privileged people who are compelled to walk by the suffering of others for the sake of the greater good, those who under a banner that says all lives matter, easily impose a hierarchy valuing some lives more than others in the name of good social order. And in the world of police shooter and vengeful snipers, being a Good Samaritan is maintaining the status quo and systems that oppress some and privilege others.

But the grace-filled reality of the parable of the Good Samaritan is that it is not the moral lesson that we usually think it to be. Instead, it is a lens that we can hold up to see God’s action in the world. There is God who comes along to rescue and save a half-dead traveller in the ditch, there is God who says that random, senseless violence does not define us. There is the God of all power and might, who gives it up to come and find us in the ditch, and who doesn’t make distinctions between greater and lesser good. The Good Samaritan is not who we should aspire to be, but who God is.

We can never be the Good Samaritan. God is always the Good Samaritan.

Back at the beginning of the story, before Jesus tells the parable, a young lawyer stands to ask Jesus what he must to do inherit eternal life. And this question points us back to the heart of what this parable is about. The parable tells us about God’s response to sin and death in our world. And when we listen closely, the parable sounds more like this:

“Humanity” was going down from “The Holy City” into “the night”, and fell into the hands of robbers or racist cops or vengeful gunmen, “into the hands of Sin and Death” who stripped “Humanity”, beat humanity, and went away, leaving humanity half dead. Now by chance “Power” was going down that road; and when he saw “Humanity, “Power” passed by on the other side. So likewise “Privilege”, when he came to the place and saw “Humanity” passed by on the other side. But “the Grace and Mercy of God” while traveling came near “to Humanity”; and when “Grace and Mercy” saw humanity, “she” was moved with pity. “Grace and Mercy” went to humanity and bandaged humanity’s wounds, having poured oil and wine on them. Then “Grace and Mercy” put  humanity on “her” own animal, brought humanity to an inn, and took care of humankind. The next day “she” took out two denarii (silver coins), gave them to the innkeeper, and said, `Take care of “humanity”; and when I come back, I will repay you whatever more you spend.

The parable of the Good Samaritan is not a moral lesson on good works, but a description of the injustice, suffering, sin and death that seem to control our world, that seem to control us.  When the news tells us of sense violence and death, of the sins of racism and injustice, of revenge and tragedy, we can see ourselves in the man beaten and left to die.

But ultimately, the parable shows us how God comes into our broken world, with mercy and grace. And what God does in our world, only God can. God rescues us from the tragedy of random violence and suffering. God meets us where power and privilege can never go. And God finds us in the ditches of sin and death to bring us into healing, and new life.

Amen. 

What have we done…

IMG_4927And now a break from regularly scheduled programming, for some personal news.

Two years ago in May of 2014, Courtenay and I welcomed our son Oscar into the world (you can read that story here). He emerged into the world only to step on our dreams and free time, and we couldn’t love him more for it.

Last October, Courtenay and I discovered that we would be welcoming another child into the world. But with less free time and fewer dreams to crush, our next child would be a joy to rival her older brother!

IMG_4928Well, on Wednesday morning, July 6th, 2016, Courtenay and I welcomed Maeve Dorothy Pearl Reedman Parker into the world. She was born by C-section at 10am sharp. She was 9lbs, 3 ounces and 21 inches long. Thankfully we opted for the surgical delivery before 48 hours of labour and our OB/GYN said we made the right choice.

Maeve (pronounced Mayv) is happy and healthy. She is a hungry little baby and only this morning, almost 48 hours after being born, she finally finding some time to sleep after eating non-stop.

IMG_4939Oscar is very happy to spend time with “Baby Maeve” any chance he can get. He would sit in her lap if we let him!

Courtenay is an amazing mother, and I am blessed to have her and now two beautiful, amazing children.

 



Lost in the Discipleship Details

Luke 10:1-11, 16-20

“Do not rejoice at this, that the spirits submit to you, but rejoice that your names are written in heaven.” (Read the whole passage)

Sermon

Jesus is talking the dreaded “D” word again this week. Discipleship.

Last week Jesus had to come to terms with the quality of disciples he had to work with. Disciples who didn’t get it, who wanted to destroy those whom they were trying to reach as much as help them. Disciples who were not committed, who only had one toe in the water.

And so today, Jesus uses those disciples anyways, sending 70 of them out into the world to proclaim the good news, the kingdom of God has come near.

Now, this story of discipleship is one that many here will know well. It is one that during the past year, council and other groups read to one another each time we gathered for a meeting. And over that year, we unpacked this story as much as we could, we asked questions, we considered the words or phrases or ideas that struck us, and we kept coming up with new questions and new insights despite reading the same story for a whole year. And the intention of coming back to this particular story was to hopefully see ourselves and our call as disciples in the experience of this 70.

Yet, when the 70 return rejoicing and with excitement at for their efforts in ministry, it may be hard put ourselves in their shoes. In fact, we may feel the exact opposite – burnout and dread at keeping up with the ministry of being church. It gets tiring juggling all the parts of church and keeping all the balls in the air.

Still, the idea of Jesus sending 70 disciples out to proclaim the gospel seems relatively simple. Perhaps not easy, but it sounds simple to be sent out with little more than the shirt on our backs.

Yet, the directions that Jesus gives for ministry are not all the straightforward. Jesus has directions on what to bring on the journey, where to stay, who to stay with, how to be good guests, how to know when it is time move on.

In fact, it turns out that being disciples and preaching the gospel isn’t all that simple at all, even for the very first group of disciples sent out on the mission. And as most of us know, people who show up at the front doors of our homes, asking us if we have heard the good news are not usually all that welcome… Nor are the door knocking evangelists we have in our world all that effective.

Whether it is 1st century Israelite disciples being sent out on the road with nothing, or 21st century disciples with buildings and budgets, staff and volunteers, programs and committees to manage, it is not simple to just go out and preach the gospel.

In fact, it is the complexity that is draining. Managing all the different pieces of being church together can feel exhausting. Just for us to gather and worship on Sundays, as this community has been doing for over 60 years requires a lot of planning and work. Just this morning, someone needed to open the door, turn on the lights, put out the bulletins, put up the hymn numbers, greet worshippers and hand out the bulletins, light the candles, play the organ, collect the offering, count the offering, turn off the lights and lock doors. Someone needs to plan worship, make the bulletin, and write the sermon. Other Sundays people need to set up, serve and clean up communion. Others are needed to teach Sunday School, lead bible study, teach confirmation. And these are just tasks for a fairly typical Sunday morning. We won’t even get into maintaining the building, overseeing the large scope of year to year operations, fulling all due diligence legally and insurance wise.

It is a complicated endeavour to be a group of people called by Jesus to preach the gospel.

 

Yet, when 70 return they are excited. They are on fire. They are energized for the mission:

“Lord, in your name even the demons submit to us!”

But Jesus is not impressed:

“Do not rejoice at this, that the spirits submit to you, but rejoice that your names are written in heaven.”

The disciples are guilty of doing the same thing that church people have been doing for 2000 years. They get wrapped up in the complexities, the potential for power and relevance and influence. Like Popes who would be Kings or committee chairs who enjoy having a little power for even just a couples of hours at a monthly meeting… the disciples get distracted by the details of Jesus’ mission.

So, Jesus calls them back to the main thing: “rejoice that your names are written in heaven”

Translation: Rejoice that God’s Kingdom has been made known in the world!

Jesus reminds the disciples and us that all the complexities of being sent out are about one thing. The mission. Preaching the Kingdom of God come near. Letting people know about God’s love.

But it goes even deeper. Jesus is reminding the disciples that God’s mission is about people. About people who need to hear good news. Jesus didn’t send them to find the right people, the chosen people, the good people. Jesus sent the disciples to preach to the ones who needed to hear. The peace they offered was for people who needed peace. The demons they exorcized was because people needed to be free from unclean spirits. Even the hospitality they received was so that the unlikeliest of people would be given the honour of being hosts to prophets and preachers.

All the instructions that Jesus gave, all the complexities. They were so that the disciples could reach the people that needed the gospel the most. So that God’s love would be shown to those who are normally excluded… the unclean, the marginalized, the unrighteous.

And all the complexities that tire us out, that fill us with burnout and dread?

They too are in service of the mission. They too are about the people that Jesus is reaching through us.

When we make this place ready for worship and welcome all who gather, God gathers us into the One Body of Christ, God ties us together to far and wide, into community of the faithful that can only exist here.

When we hand out bulletins and play musical instruments, God becomes known to us in worship and praise, in worship and praise that thins the gap between heaven and earth just enough that we might glimpse the heavenly chorus.

When someone stands up and reads the lessons, God’s very voice speaks to us with promises of forgiveness and new life, God speaks to heal our wounds, comfort our sorrows, and to give shape to our place God’s world.

When the table is set with bread and wine, God feeds the hungry with the only food that has a hope of satisfying the hunger in our souls. God feeds us with bread so that we become bread for the world. God gives us the Body Christ so that we become the Body of Christ for the world.

When ushers direct us forward and servers serve, God makes God’s table a place for each and everyone of us, a place for. God leads us into the holy of holies, into God’s Kingdom come near to us.

This is the thing about being sent as disciples in the world… it easy for us to lose sight of what all the complexities really mean. It is easy for the disciples to get wrapped up in casting out demons. It is easy for us to be burned out and tired by having to keep track of all the little details of being church here.

But Jesus never said it would be easy. Nor did Jesus say that being a disciple was about the results. In fact, Jesus kind of made it complicated right from the beginning.

Yet, what Jesus does remind the disciples of today is that everything we do is connected to the work of God’s kingdom, that God’s Kingdom of love, forgiveness, healing and hope is breaking into the world for us, and for those around us who need to hear some good news.

So yes, Jesus is talking about discipleship again today. Because it is through disciples, through us, that God is bringing the Kingdom near.

Amen.